The News-Times

Stocks sink on new COVID variant; Dow loses 905 points


Stocks sank Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly falling more than 1,000 points, as a new coronaviru­s variant first detected in South Africa appeared to be spreading across the globe. Investors were uncertain whether the variant could potentiall­y reverse months of progress at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

The S&P 500 index dropped 106.84 points, or 2.3 percent, to close at 4,594.62. It was the worst day for Wall Street’s benchmark index since February.

The index was dragged lower by everything from banks, travel companies and energy companies as investors tried to reposition to protect themselves financiall­y from the new variant. The World Health Organizati­on called the variant “highly transmissi­ble.”

The price of oil fell about 13 percent, the biggest decline since early in the pandemic, amid worries of another slowdown in the global economy. That in turn dragged down energy stocks. Exxon shares fell 3.5 percent while Chevron fell 2.3 percent.

The blue chips closed down 905.04 points to end the day at 34,899.34. The Nasdaq Composite lost 353.57 points, or 2.2 percent, to 15,491.66.

“Investors are likely to shoot first and ask questions later until more is known,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a report. That was evident from the action in the bond market, where the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.48 percent from 1.64 percent on Wednesday. As a result, banks took some of the heaviest losses. JPMorgan Chase dropped 3 percent.

There have been other variants of the coronaviru­s — the delta variant devastated much of the U.S. throughout the summer — and investors, public officials and the general public are jittery about any new variant that’s spreading. It’s been nearly two years since COVID-19 emerged, killing more than 5 million people around the globe so far.

Cases of the new variant were found in Hong Kong, Belgium and Tel Aviv as well as major South African cities like Johannesbu­rg.

The economic impacts of this variant were already being felt. The European Union and the U.K. both announced travel restrictio­ns from southern Africa on Friday. After the market closed, the U.S. also put travel restrictio­ns on those coming from South Africa as well as seven other African nations.

Airline stocks quickly sold off, with United Airlines dropping 9.6 percent and American Airlines falling 8.8 percent.

“COVID had seemingly been put in the rear-view mirror by financial markets until recently,“Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. “At the least, (the virus) is likely to continue throwing sand in the gears of the global economy in 2022, restrainin­g the recovery (and) keeping kinks in the supply chain.”

Even Bitcoin got caught up in the selling. The digital currency dropped 8.4 percent to $54,179, according to CoinDesk.

In Nantucket, Mass., where he is spending a holiday weekend, President Joe Biden said he wasn’t concerned about the market’s decline.

“They always do when there’s something on COVID (that) arises,” Biden said.

One sign of Wall Street’s anxiety was the VIX, the market’s measuremen­t of volatility that is sometimes referred to as its “fear gauge.” The VIX jumped 53.6 percent to a reading of 28.54, its highest reading since January before the vaccines began to be widely distribute­d. of more lockdowns and travel bans, investors moved money into companies that largely benefited from previous waves, like Zoom Communicat­ions for meetings or Peloton for at-home exercise equipment. Shares in both companies rose nearly 6 percent.

The coronaviru­s vaccine manufactur­ers were among the biggest beneficiar­ies of the emergence of this new variant and the subsequent investor reaction. Pfizer shares rose more than 6 percent while Moderna shares jumped more than 20 percent.

Merck shares fell 3.8 percent, however. While U.S. health officials said Merck’s experiment­al treatment of COVID-19 was effective, data showed the pill was not as effective at keeping patients out of the hospital as originally thought.

Investors are worried that the supply chain issues that have impacted global markets for months will worsen.

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